10 Things I Wish Every Race Director Would Do

I've been asked by race directors what they can do to make their events better, attract more participants, and keep people coming back year after year.   I've come up with my list of the top ten things I wish every race director would do.  Many great race directors do these things already, and it's appreciated.  For those who don't- I hope you'll consider implementing these ideas.

1) Make sure your race website has all the information athletes need about your event without asking or digging.  

The following information should be clearly visible on your race website or brochure:
  • The event date
  • The city and state
  • The race start time
  • The course time limit
  • A schedule of registration price increases
  • What you get for your registration fee
  • What aide is on the course and where
  • Where the bathrooms/portapotties are
  • An accurate course description (hilly, flat, asphalt, concrete, trail, closed/open roads, etc.)
  • Elevation charts (either computer made, or a course route made via GPS device or a run mapping website)
  • The date when registration closes online
You'd be surprised at how many race websites don't mention the state the race is actually in,or force you go to halfway through online registration before you see the race fees.  Race directors need to assume that someone is checking out their website from the other side of the country, and is planning for a race in the area while traveling for work, visiting family, or aiming for a race in every state.

If your website doesn't have it already, consider adding a "FAQ" page that covers regular questions such as the use of earphones on the course; time limits; rules regarding strollers; information on place and age group awards; and your policy about deferrals and transfers (whether you do them or not).

2) Offer a physical address for directions for parking and/or packet pickup.  If the GPS address is different, list the GPS address.

Directions should be written so that someone who is coming from the other side of the country can easily find your race location.  Directions written with local references (such as turn at Bob's Hardware Store) won't help people who have never been there before.  

3) Alert potential participants to registration price increases,  potential race sellouts, and the close of online registration via email and social media.

If there limited spots left, such as 25-50 spots (or less), and you expect your race to sell out in a matter of days or a week, let us know.   That notice will get those of us who are on the fence to commit to your race. 

4) Offer a volunteer incentive program to athletes.
Many race directors offer a free entry or a discount to a future race for athletes that volunteer at an event, or to those who bring a volunteer.  An athlete may bring a spouse or family member to volunteer at your event while they are running if a volunteer credit can be passed on to them.

5) Control the post-race food and water to prevent non-athletes from taking it, to prevent food mooching, and to ensure everyone gets food.

While most races have plenty of post-race food, I've seen a few things happen.  Runners help themselves to too much food, leaving none for the back of the backers; runners feed their family members and non-athletes, taking food away from the athletes who paid for it; or non-participants help themselves.

There are several things race directors can do to ensure everyone gets post-race nourishment. Some RDs require a bib ticket for post-race food.  Some RDs pre-package the post-race food in plastic, paper or tote bags, giving one to each participant, ensuring people don't overtake certain items.  Some mark a participant's bib after they got food so they can't go back for more.  Some sell food tickets to non-athletes so family members can join in on post-race breakfast or picnics.  Some races only have volunteers hand out food and only give it to people wearing bibs.   The bottom line is people should not be walking away with boxes of food when there are still people out on the course.

6) Honor your course time limits.

If a race director offers a 3:30 time limit in a half marathon, then all participants finishing under that time limit should have a valid finish time, the on-course support they need, and access to post-race food.  Honoring your time limit also means ensuring police and volunteer support is out there for all athletes to ensure they get the aide they need, and that they can find their way on the course. 

If you can't support a certain time limit or certain paces, athletes understand.  They won't sign up for a race they can't finish in time.  They will, however, be quite annoyed when your website advertised you support a certain pace but then don't honor that on race day.

I know of too many stories of people getting lost on a course because volunteers or police left an unmarked corner early, and participants had no idea which way to go.  I've watched finishers have to pull their own medal out of a box on the ground.  I've watched friends finish to literally nothing- no food, no water, no staff. 

While I understand RDs will begin the clean up and packing up process before all participants are in, this doesn't mean the last finishers should come back to nothing.  Consolidate the food/medals/water to one table if you have to.   Packing up all the food and the finish line at the 3 hour mark when there are dozens of participants still on the course leaves athletes feeling like they are unwanted or not respected.

Some race directors offer a half hour to an hour early start for walkers or slower runners.  This gives these participants a head-start on the course before the main pack goes off, and means the odds are that you won't have finishers out on the course alone after most participants are done.  You also can close your water stops, volunteers, police and course down as planned.

Some race directors have aide set up for early starters; some don't.  Some tell their participants they must carry a map or their own water for the first hour.  Most regular early starters have no problem carrying a map and/or their own aide until the water stops open.  These extra participants also mean extra revenue for you.

If you have multiple distance races going on at once (such as a 5K, 10K and a half marathon), remember to space out the food so that earlier race finishers do not eat all the food before the longer distance participants come in.

7) Add more bathrooms to the start.
Most porta potty calculators will tell you that the minimum is one porta potty for every 100 people for up to four hours.  Let's be realistic- that's an underestimate for runners.  Go for at least three portapotties for every 100 people, especially in races where there are more women than men participating.  Also, someone bring a package of toilet paper to restock. 

8) Make your race personal and focus on the athletes.
Either via email, social media, or in a text field during your registration process, ask athletes to share why they are registering for your race.  Share important, significant, and special stories about your race participants (with their permission) on your race website, social media or your athlete guide.  Share and emphasize the great and inspiring human stories of your participants.

Celebrate the athletes that are your "streakers"- those who have done your race every year.  On your race's five, ten, and other important anniversary years, recognize those who have done every one.  

Some RDs offer personalized bibs.  Some leave a blank line on the bib for people to write in their first name.  Some ask participants if the race is their first half or full marathon, offering a different colored bib or a bib with a "first half marathon" text on it to commemorate the accomplishment.  

Also, some race participants may ask you for special bib numbers to commemorate and celebrate an important milestone race.  Someone at your race may be finishing their 50th state; finishing their 100th half marathon or marathon (or higher); or hitting an important birthday.  If you can accommodate these requests, I know it means a great deal to the participant.

9) Rotate the finisher's items/shirts/swag.
Try to avoid having the same shirt design and the same medal design every year.  Part of what gets people to come back year after year is different race swag. Rotate your medal designs and/or your giveaway items.

10) Send out a post-race feedback survey and solicit feedback.
It's easy for a race director to set up a free post-race survey on various survey websites such as Survey Monkey.  Ask for feedback and recommendations on your event.  Know that just like any other company, you may get some responses that you just can't address, or some people you'll never make happy.  I believe you'll get honest feedback, opinions or advice from participants that want to see your events succeed and get better.  You may learn things you didn't know, like a certain corner or intersection needs better support or signage.

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